12612 OL: Distributed Mentoring in Online Fan Fiction Communities: Promoting Equity, Access, and Openness in Learning
Organizers: Katie Davis, Julie Campbell, Cecilia Aragon
Presenters: Abigail Evans, David Randall, Sarah Evans
This presentation explores open learning in the context of youth’s participation in online fan fiction communities. Young people worldwide are participating in ever-increasing numbers in online fan communities. Far from shallow repositories of pop culture, growing evidence indicates that sophisticated informal learning is taking place in these communities. Our research team conducted an in-depth, nine-month ethnographic investigation of online fan fiction communities, including participant observations, fan fiction author interviews, and a thematic analysis of 4,500 fan fiction reader reviews. Our analyses led to the development of a theory we term distributed mentoring, which draws on and extends Edwin Hutchins’ theory of distributed cognition.
We found that members of fan fiction communities spontaneously mentor each other in open forums and via story reviews, and that this mentoring builds upon previous interactions in a way that is distinct from traditional forms of mentoring and made possible by the affordances of open, networked publics. The seven characteristics of distributed mentoring include: aggregation, accretion, acceleration, abundance, availability, asynchronicity, and affect. Together, these characteristics underscore the open, inclusive, and participatory nature of learning in informal online communities like fan fiction forums.
Distributed mentoring holds important implications for understanding the processes associated with open learning, including open-ended exploration, forming new connections among ideas and people, and self-directed learning. In this presentation, we will consider the findings from this study in light of ongoing efforts to leverage networked technologies to build a more participatory and equitable culture for diverse learners.